Inn at Palmetto Bluff deftly updates clubhouse menu

Hanna Raskin

Well-heeled diners have become increasingly adventurous in their food choices, ordering watermelon soup, octopus salad and ceviche with the enthusiasm they formerly reserved for medium-well rib eyes. Yet their willingness to try new things seems to vanish as soon as they lace up their golf spikes: Clubhouse restaurants remain among the most hidebound restaurants catering to a presumably savvy clientele.

At most restaurants located on the edge of golf courses, the menu is a reliable collection of burgers; club sandwiches; wings and quesadillas. That’s not necessarily a problem, unless you’re a chef itching for a bigger challenge than a buffalo chicken sandwich or a marketing specialist seeking something unique to promote.

Late last month, The Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton adjusted the menu at its May River Golf Grill in conjunction with a resort-wide menu update that followed the April appointment of Nathan Beriau as executive chef. Employees are now gingerly acquainting club members with the new offerings, and assuring them that longtime favorites aren’t going away.

“We are not getting rid of the bacon-wrapped hot dog,” declares spokeswoman Christine Wrobel, who was on staff years ago when the beloved item was recklessly yanked off the menu. The incident was apparently traumatic for employees and golfers alike.

This time around, the wagyu dog, wrapped in bacon and topped with smoked bacon, is safe, along with the burger, Caesar salad and bacon-rimmed bloody Mary. Other familiar items were gently tweaked: The chili, for example, is now made with venison. Seared tuna has been relocated to a challah bun, smeared with remoulade and scattered with pickled onions.

Other dishes are brand new creations, reflecting the property’s forward-looking mindset. The resort will open an additional 78 rooms in January, at which time it will become known as Montage Palmetto Bluff; Montage last year took over the Inn. Then in September 2016, the resort will open a building with 72 more rooms; a bar; lounge and two restaurants. According to Wrobel, “Concepts for the dining have not yet been finalized.”

Is steak salad a viable concept? Because May River Golf Grill is serving a superb version of the dish, thanks to a menu enhancement that should please traditionalists (a salad featuring fried chicken; green tomatoes; candied bacon and spicy ranch dressing probably also stands a fair chance of making inroads.)

What’s brilliant about the salad is how effectively it compresses the steakhouse experience into a single bowl. The crisp leaves of romaine are topped with pungent blue cheese and grape tomatoes, evoking wedge salads; crisped cubes of potatoes that are essentially French fries and slices of beautifully-cooked beef. It’s restrainedly dressed with horseradish vinaigrette, just in case you’re the kind of carnivore who takes a few raw oysters before a steak meal begins in earnest.

I feel very strongly about this salad. My server warned me repeatedly that the new dishes are designed to flit on and off the menu according to the season, but I’m hoping the salad gets to stay. I’d hate for there to be a repeat of the bacon-wrapped hot dog debacle.